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The Jack-O-Lantern: A Halloween Tradition

Published by Esperanza Derosa

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The Story of “Jack and the Hollow Turnip”

Ever wonder how the jack-o-lantern got its name? Or how it came to be associated with hollowed out pumpkins carved into grotesquely-shaped faces? Or how the jack-o-lantern came to be associated with Halloween? Jack-o-lanterns were originally carved from beets, potatoes, and turnips. People placed a light or candle inside and used the vegetables as lanterns to protect themselves from the restless spirits that roamed the earth. The term “jack-o-lantern” is from an old legend of an Irishman named Jack.

Long ago there was a miserly Irish drunkard named Jack who tricked the Devil into buying him a drink in exchange for his soul. The Devil turned himself into a sixpence to pay for the drink. Jack quickly put the sixpence into his pocket which also contained a silver cross. Because of this, the Devil could not change himself back. Jack made the Devil swear that, if he released him, he would never come after Jack’s soul again.

After a long and sinful life, Jack died. Upon ascending to the gates of heaven, he was turned away because he had lived the life of a mean miser and a drunkard. Unfortunately for Jack, there was only one place to go, so Jack descended to the fiery pits of hell. But even in hell he was not accepted. The Devil had promised never to claim his soul. So when Jack asked the Devil where he could go, the Devil told him to go back where he came from.

As Jack was whisked away, the Devil angrily threw a live coal at him straight from the fires of hell. At the time, Jack had been eating a turnip. He quickly hollowed out the turnip and placed the coal inside to light his way. Jack has wandered the earth as a lost soul, with his jack-o-lantern, searching for a place to rest. Ever since, he has come to be known as “Jack-O-Lantern.”

The legend of stingy Jack spread to England and Scotland, where people believed that a lit jack-o-lantern protected them from Jack and the evil spirits on Halloween. When Irish and Scottish immigrants came to America in the 1800s, they brought the traditions of Halloween with them. They discovered that pumpkins made perfect jack-o-lanterns, and began to use them instead of turnips.

Today, jack-o-lanterns are a favorite symbol of Halloween but the original meaning has been lost. So when you are dressing for Halloween, remember that a grotesquely lit face can ward off a thousand evil spirits.

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